In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Liberty County’s faithful gathered Jan. 1 at the Historic First African Baptist Church in Riceboro, where a bell tolled at noon, signifying the importance of the historic recollection.
“The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln issued on Jan. 1, 1863, declared free millions of slaves in rebellious states. Yet slavery was not fully abolished until the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all blacks,” said Dr. Hermon Scott, president of the Liberty County Emancipation Proclamation Observance Committee.
Historic First African Baptist Church Pastor Neil Dawson served as the program’s worship leader.
“I have traveled this country and have never seen people like those in Liberty County. They know where they came from, and they know who brought them over. We have to stand on the legacy of our forefathers,” Dawson said.
The First African and First Zion Baptist Church choirs provided music, performing “Lord Help Me to Hold Out,” “Who’s on the Lord’s Side” and “Sweet Spirit Take Over this Place.”
The program, themed “Forward: Celebrating 150 Years,” included an essay reading by 2012 Emancipation Proclamation scholarship recipient Tyshayana Stevens, who based her composition on last year’s theme, “Taking Charge of Your Destiny.”
“In order to take charge of our destiny, we have to know ourselves. Knowing yourself means knowing your values in life, your beliefs, your personality, your priorities, your habits, your moods and your relationships,” Stevens said.
First African member Dr. Dorothy Roundtree read the Emancipation Proclamation. State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, chairman of the Deacons’ Ministry at Calvary Baptist Church, was the keynote speaker.
“As I listened to the song the choir sang, ‘Lord Help Me to Hold Out,’ God gave me my message,” Williams said. “One-hundred and fifty years is sesquicentennial. Fifty years ago, I read my essay, ‘The Role of Free Holders in Liberty County,’ at the Emancipation Proclamation Observance Day program, which was held at Sunbury Baptist. On Jan. 1, 1966, I was the Emancipation speaker.
“There is good news and, in some instances, not-so-good news. I agree with Anitra Golden, who gave us our welcome. Our praises honor our ancestors. We must never forget to honor our ancestors; they are the one who helped us to get over,” he said.
“In the spring of 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King was heralded for his great work, but when he questioned the morality of the Vietnam War, some high-powered people condemned him in the press,” Williams continued. “He had questioned the status quo. Every once in a while, you have to question the status quo and stand up for what is right. It may not be popular, but you must stand.”
Four Liberty County citizens were recognized for exemplary community service. Special awards went to retiring Liberty County Commission Chairman John D. McIver and the late Clarence Williams. The Emancipation Proclamation Committee will present a monetary donation to Williams’ family, which will go to a charity.
Bradwell Institute student and Pleasant Grove African Methodist Episcopal Church member Aaron James Nealy received a youth award. The Rev. B.T. Smith, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Fleming, received president’s awards.
The program booklet was dedicated to the late Dorothy Brunson, Alberta Mullins and Willie Louise Quarterman, who all were dedicated community servants. Names of community members who are 90 or older also were printed in the program. They received certificates of recognition.
Scott expressed his appreciation to attendees for their support of the Emancipation Proclamation Committee. “Because of your financial support, we are able to give scholarships to graduating students so they can attend college. Education is very important. Some of our forefathers worked all day and went to school at night. We must never forget to instill the importance of education in our black children,” he said.
The 2014 celebration, already in the planning stages, will be at Thebes African Methodist Episcopal Church in Midway.